Strategy and the Social Media Pyramid

Last week I introduced the concept of the SMUG Social Media Pyramid as a helpful framework for considering how much is “enough” in social media. It was an attempt to answer the question, “Should we spread our efforts over lots of platforms, of just focus on one or two?”

I followed that post with a couple of more, on portions and serving sizes, as well as the need to serve through your servings, and I appreciate all the supportive comments and re-tweets, as having an analogy to the balanced physical diet seemed to resonate with many people. Just as you have different “food groups” that contribute to overall health, various categories of social media tools meet different needs in communications.

But I wanted to spend a little time discussing one of the comments that, while supportive of the concept, raised an interesting issue:

I have to say, however, that from my perspective, none of what you describe constitutes strategy. It comes across like a hardware salesperson from the Snap-On Tool Company laying out tools, and telling us what tools are most important…WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE TOOLS WILL BE USED FOR!

In other words, the tools will be ranked very differently in order of importance if I’m working on a car engine than if I’m working on a water main. In the networked world, the operations we perform, the needs we express, vary immensely. From breaking a new music act to the bonding of parents with hydrocephalic children, to (as one of the commentors above mentions, connecting with old classmates.)

Not being negative here, Lee, just constructively critical. Here’s another thing to consider in ranking the relevance of the various social media platforms:

Existing content.

If, for example you’ve got a vault of video related to your subject, or if there’s some incredibly emotional and compelling content available on video, then You Tube (or Vimeo or Hulu or Veoh– each has its own strengths, and merits its own ranking-within-ranking) can become the foundational platform, and the other platforms will be implemented to drive awareness and patronage.

I don’t really disagree with much of what Bonifer had to say, except that what I’m presenting in the Social Media Pyramid is a “well-balanced diet” — or since it’s about production instead of consumption — a well-balanced menu. I’m not ranking the tools any more than the USDA is saying Breads, Cereal, Pasta and Rice are more important than Fruits or Vegetables.

I would say, however, that in most cases your program won’t reach its peak potential without a blog. Most of the content can be embedded video, or you may want to use primarily text-based posts. But a blog, like the one Bonifer mentioned, can be the hub to tie various tools together. And the blog he cited is actually a really good example of text, photos, a Twitter widget and embedded video. A blog gives you the potential for depth that you don’t have with other platforms.

The other good point Bonifer makes is that within each category of the pyramid, there are various options. In social networks, for example, you probably don’t need to have a major presence in Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn and Orkut. You’ll probably pick just one, based on where members of the community you’re gathering spend their time. Or you may try to create your own special-purpose network with Ning or some other service.

And that relates back to the question that originally prompted me to publish the pyramid paradigm (I just can’t avoid alliteration), as to whether organizations should focus on one or two platforms or spread themselves over several. I suggest picking a primary platform in each level of the pyramid, and that in most cases the popular, general-purpose platforms are going to be the best places to start.

Take advantage of the critical mass that is already building instead of trying to start from nothing and getting people to sign onto your special-purpose, standalone network. If you have passionate fans or community members who define themselves significantly by their association with your organization, maybe a standalone network would be useful. And there could be some cases in which a more exclusive, members-only networking site would make sense.

But if a big part of your goal is outreach, or spreading word-of-mouth, it’s important to be in places where that can happen. That’s why general-purpose networks make sense: your fans’ enthusiasm can infect others. In a standalone social network, you’re interacting with the proverbial choir (not “preaching” to them!), but you’re not recruiting new members. In a general-purpose network like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, your community members’ friends and contacts can discover you.

So certainly, there’s a place for strategy, and you should give thought to what particular platforms make the most sense for you and for your organization.

But I would argue (in fact, I already have), that social media tools are the postmodern equivalents of the telephone and the fax. No one asks (unless you’re a telemarketing firm) what your telephone strategy is, at least in the sense of whether you should use the telephone. It’s just a basic way of communicating.

You may have strategic decisions to make, such as whether you will use automated voice mail or have a real human answer every call, but almost every company will have a phone number. Some may, as strategy to cut costs, emphasize online service options and make the phone number hard to find, but in a way that just proves my point. They are likely using digital tools, such as online communities, to provide product support more cost-effectively than even a call center in Bangalore.

If you’re not taking advantage of social media tools to help you accomplish your organization’s work more efficiently and cost-effectively, you’re missing a significant opportunity.

That’s not a good strategy.

Social Media Pyramid “Servings” need to Serve

In my post on the SMUG Social Media Pyramid and the follow-up on servings and portion sizes, I recommended a basic level of each of the four basic social media “food groups” which are represented in this graphic submitted by Valeri Gungor (click to enlarge):


This led to some interesting discussion in the comments, which deserves fuller attention. Here were some of the themes:

  • Isn’t this just a “maintenance” plan? If you really want your social media influence to grow, shouldn’t you be beefing up with a lot more than what’s recommended here? Or on the other extreme…
  • Doesn’t 6-11 servings a day of Twitter encourage the kind of inane celebrity updates on personal minute-by-minute activities that give Twitter a bad name?
  • This seems like a tool-centric tactical approach, not a strategic tailoring of the tools to the particular objectives of the organization’s social media program.

So here’s some amplification of what a “serving” means.

To qualify as a serving your tweet, status update, video or blog post needs to…serve. Others, not just you. Any “servings” that don’t serve are actually subtracted from your total…they’re the social media equivalent of what Mom used to call “empty calories.” No nutritional value whatsoever.

In the food pyramid a serving is something you consume. In the Social Media Pyramid a serving is something you produce. It has to be of value to others to qualify. Otherwise it’s a negative. Five good tweets plus two pointless, self-promotional or “spammy” ones gives you a net of three servings, not seven. And some might even say a bad tweet is worth -2.

So in answer to the first two questions, I would say that the more real, valuable servings you provide, the more your influence will grow. And the more garbage you post, the more likely your Twitter followers leave, your Facebook friends and fans bail on you and you lose subscribers to your YouTube videos or your blog posts.

The third point, about strategy vs. tool-time tactics, I’ll tackle in the next post. And maybe I’ll expand on the serving scoring system.

Does this “net servings” guide make sense to you? How would you change it?

Join the Revolution!

When I first saw the video I’ve embedded below, it was via an email link from my department chair at work. It’s really cool when your boss’ boss passes stuff like this along!

The video also includes a neat statistic that has particular relevance for SMUG and SMUGgles, as captured in this screen shot:


Sort of tells me we’re on the right track with SMUG; getting hands-on, online training in social media, using revolutionary tools to learn a revolutionary subject.

Oh yeah, and it’s free.

So here’s the video; you may have seen it, or you may feel like you have anyway. The same music track has been used in at least one similar video, and I’ve seen various versions over the last three years.

A previous video of this genre made the comparison of “If MySpace were a country, it would be the fourth largest…” That was so 2006. This newest version has at least been updated to reflect Facebook’s ascendancy in the English-language general-purpose social networking ecosystem.

But don’t let the fact that you may have seen something like this keep you from clicking the “play” button below. This version has some interesting facts and factoids that will help you in making the case for social media in your organization.

If you want to get hands-on experience with these powerful tools, enroll in SMUG and join the revolution.

Facebook: Biggest AND Fastest-Growing Social Network

As Erik Schonfeld wrote today on TechCrunch, Facebook is blowing away the other social networks both in monthly unique visitors and in growth rate.

Even though Facebook is now the largest social network in the world,—with 132 million unique visitors in June—it is also still the fastest growing.

(At least among the major social networks). According to figures compiled by comScore, Facebook’s visitor growth is up 153 percent on an annual basis. This compares to anemic 3 percent growth for MySpace. Other social networks showing strong global growth include Hi5 (100 percent) and Friendster (50 percent), despite each of those being less than half the size of Facebook. Orkut and Bebo fall in at 41 percent and 32 percent growth, respectively.

Read the whole story here: Facebook Is Not Only The World’s Largest Social Network, It Is Also The Fastest Growing.

When I first started writing extensively about Facebook a little over a year ago, it was growing by 3 percent a week. At that time, MySpace was the bigger player and was growing more slowly, but that was rationalized by many as a byproduct of its size: when the denominator is huge, you can’t expect the percentage growth rate to keep up with smaller competitors.

Erik analyzes what’s driving the growth for Facebook, and clearly the user-contributed translation to other languages has been the major factor. But even in North America, Facebook’s growth was 38 percent. That compares favorably with any of the other sites, and is more than 10 times the growth rate for MySpace.

One question: Where does LinkedIn fit in? Why is it nowhere to be found on these comScore charts?

I guess that’s two questions. But if anyone has the answers, I’d love to hear them and I sure so would our SMUG student body.

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Blogs in City and County Government

At the ALI Social Media Summit, we heard from Jeremy Lasich, the Deputy Director for Communications for Fairfax County, VA.

This was especially timely for me, since I am presenting Wednesday at the Illinois City/County Management Association’s Summer conference, at a pre-conference workshop entitled: “Everything Local Government Officials Need to Know about Blogs and Social Media.”

One of the stories Jeremy shared was about the wife of a Fairfax County school administrator ranted at a student who had called her husband at home complaining about his decision not to call a “snow day.” That story got widespread attention in the blogs, and also significant news media attention, including from ABC News on its World News webcast and from Good Morning America, along with the Washington Post.

Fairfax County has a Facebook group, a MySpace page and a YouTube channel.

I asked Jeremy to share some thoughts for the ICLMA group, and here’s what he had to say:


Two issues they have so far:

  • Their IT department won’t let most county employees access these sites from their work computers.
  • Their legal department has not allowed public comments on these sites because of First Amendment issues, that if these are “official” government sites they could get in trouble if they censor or delete any comments. This doesn’t seem to be a permanent policy, but the County Attorney is at least concerned enough about it that they haven’t turned on the commenting features on these official social media sites.

At the ALI conference on Wednesday they also will be hearing from Mayor Bill Gentes of Round Lake, IL. Bill’s blog is another one the ILCMA will find interesting. I heard Bill speak just over a year ago at another ALI conference, and he was quite enthusiastic about the benefits that had come from his blogging. His blog and the story behind it is among those featured in this American City & County article.

Here is a blog from the Rockford, Mich. City Manager, and here’s an article from the Boston Globe about city government blogs. That article points out some mayoral blogs that have gone to seed, with no posts in several months. One key point to remember if you’re planning to start a blog is that most of them that fail don’t do so because of some controversy that caused them to be pulled down, but rather from slowly withering away from neglect.

I think combining a YouTube channel with a blog is a great way to make blogs both easier to maintain and more authentic. When you see someone talking on a video blog, and you can see that he or she clearly isn’t reading but is instead talking from the heart, it’s a great way to avoid being flogged for running a ghost-written flog.

I will update this post later to include my slides.

Meanwhile, if anyone has questions about local government and social media, please add them in the comments, and we will discuss them during the presentation and beyond.

This is a post I did as part of a SMUG Extension Class.

Update: Here are the slides from yesterday’s presentation.